Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Orange Country Register reporter's pro-nuke bias is showing...

September 22nd, 2016

To the Editor, Orange County Register:

The following letter was sent to Teri Sforza yesterday, after her latest article about SanO's waste problem was published.

Best regards,

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


Ms Sforza,

You wrote:

"...Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – who dearly wants to see more reactors as part of a clean energy future..."

There is nothing "clean" about nuclear power. You could have worded that sentence this way (change in CAPS):

"...Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – who dearly wants to see more reactors as part of a WHAT HE BELIEVES WOULD BE A clean energy future..."

But you didn't.

You also claimed that the Texas and New Mexico proposed "temporary" (I use that word sarcastically) nuclear waste sites "could be up and running while the prickly question of finding a location for a permanent hashed out."

There are at least two problems with that statement: First of all, there is no reason to believe the "temporary" sites will actually ever come to fruition-- if if they do, that they would in fact be temporary. There are changes to a variety of laws protecting citizens for outsiders imposing waste dumps on them that would have to be made, and the transportation infrastructure would need to be rebuilt to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars for the roads and rails to be safe enough for such transport. Additionally, liability for the waste would have to be transferred to the storage locations, or the utilities will refuse the deal, since, as Tom Palmisano has stated, in his refusal to consider even sending SanO's waste to Palo Verde (with its much sparser population density, and no tsunami risk and very little earthquake risk), which SCE is a part owner of, that SCE does not want to be held legally responsible for the waste when they cannot control how well it is managed. So either the "temporary" site will have to accept the liability along with the waste -- which no sane company would do -- or there would have to be significant and complex changes to the laws governing liability for nuclear waste.

And this all ignores the additional fact that the majority of citizens of every state in the union do not desire to become the nation's nuclear waste repository.

Second of all, what you call the "root of the present paralysis" in finding a permanent waste site is not something that can simply be "hashed out." Rather, it is something that cannot be scientifically resolved at all! It is, in a word, impossible to find a safe permanent solution. Your article strongly implies otherwise. But if you were around (which as far as I know, you weren't) for the Yucca Mountain hearings, you would have heard about the ~300 science-based objections to Yucca Mountain by Nevada's experts, and dozens more by California's experts, and hundreds more by citizens around the country -- and if you had been around even longer ago, you would have learned that Yucca Mountain was chosen because every other site in the country had already been rejected for other reasonable reasons: Too close to population centers, unstable ground, water tables flowing past them that provide drinking water to millions of people, tornadoes, tsunamis...and yes, there was also, and always will be, enormous public opposition to having a site nearby. Nobody wants this waste and that's never going to change.

Also disappointing and indicating bias was your statement, regarding reactors in California, that: "All are shut down, or will close shortly..." DCNPP is not scheduled to close until 2025, and there is in fact no binding agreement that guarantees it will close even then. In the meantime, it will produce, if it doesn't melt down, millions of pounds of additional nuclear waste, none of which has any possibility of safe storage. The fact is: DCNPP is neither "scheduled to close" and certainly not "shortly." It has made an offer, which it does not have to act on ever, and which Mothers for Peace, for example -- the longest-running intervenor at DCNPP (or perhaps anywhere) refused to be a party to, in part because there's nothing binding about it.

Lastly, I was disappointed that your article didn't discuss a topic which Tom Palmisano had said, at the most recent SCE/CEP meeting last week, was the most critical issue in storing nuclear waste: Avoiding criticality events. None of the "temporary" sites have any plan whatsoever to render a criticality event impossible: They are all (including the ~70 current "temporary" waste sites in America, including all in California) vulnerable to airplane strikes and terrorism, not to mention earthquakes and, for coastal "temporary" sites (like SanO and DCNPP), tsunamis. Any of these events are capable of causing a criticality event in spent fuel, because "spent" fuel is only financially no longer viable fuel: There is still plenty of fissile material in it.

But neutralizing the U-235 and Pu-239 WOULD make criticality events impossible, and that can be done using laser-produced photons in the 10 to 15 MeV range. Doing so would not only make criticality events impossible, and render extraction of bomb-making material impossible too, but it would also reduce the required storage time from about half a million years to a "mere" 600 or so -- nearly three times the life of this nation so far, but still a far more manageable and understandable length of time than how long any other waste "solution" must be projected out. (After that time, the fuel would be only about four times more dangerous than so-called "depleted" uranium, still not puff-pastry, but far less dangerous than fission products and/or fissile materials.)

Without neutralization, we are talking about lengths of time far longer than the pyramids have stood. Far longer than man has walked erect. Far longer than any imaginable building or facility will last.

Instead, Dianne Feinstein is demanding that some poverty-stricken community take the waste -- for a bribe ($25 million has already been set aside by the DOE for downpayments on those bribes) -- in order to somehow cause the rest of the country to "accept" nuclear power and believe it is "safe" in spite of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima and 1,000 close calls besides those events.

The real lesson of Yucca Mountain is that safe storage of nuclear waste is impossible, and creating more of it is irresponsible.

If you're going to write pro-nuclear articles, you should apply for work with the Nuclear Energy Institute, the World Nuclear Association or the International Atomic Energy Association, the latter of which has always claimed to be unbiased, but isn't, in part due to the information it considers. As a recent article in the Times of London put it, nuke plants are guilty of "not reporting to national regulators [about accidents], regulators not reporting to the IAEA, & the IAEA not reporting at all." They'll accept your biased statements without question. The OCR should not.

If you are going to write for an American newspaper, please be fair and balanced, factual and unbiased in any direction.

Best regards,

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Link to Times article cited above:

Link to OCR article:

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The dangers of (and potential solutions for) spent fuel at San Onofre

To: "Terry Sforza" <>

August 28, 2016

Ms Sforza,

Regarding your recent article (shown below) about spent fuel at San Onofre, I suggest you dig deeper into the reality of nuclear waste problems in America -- literally and figuratively. Maybe doing so would provide the proper warning to residents around Diablo Canyon, that 10 more years of making nuclear waste is going to be a big problem for them -- it could be those NEW canisters which crack and leak, maybe 100 (or 100,000) years from now when they STILL haven't moved "to a new zip code" as Tom Palmisano would put it. Maybe in as little as 17 years or less, not the 80 years EPRI estimates, because EPRI didn't look at all the available data.

There's no "zip code" in America where the waste would be safe, none where it's wanted, none were it's safe to transport it to. And Mr. Palmisano is even ignoring his own backyard (literally and figuratively) where the waste would be most likely to go -- Palo Verde. As part-owner of that still-making-waste nuclear power plant, it's within his power to at least push for the waste to go there -- much farther from population centers, much farther from earthquake and tsunami zones than it is right now... and go there now, and why not? Why doesn't he push for that?

Because then, Southern California Edison would still be in legal possession of the waste. Mr. Palmisano claimed in writing that the reason PVNPP isn't a good solution is because then SCE wouldn't have "control" of the waste, as if they don't trust APS (Arizona Public Service, a misnomer if ever there was one) to run a nuclear power plant and handle it's own associated waste pile -- which is, or will be, far larger than ours, since they continue to operate three nuclear power plants and, unlike SCE, were successful in replacing their steam generators for another couple of decades of nuclear waste-making.

But look around the country: Where do you think the waste will go? WIPP suffered an explosive release of kitty-litter-laden plutonium 2 1/2 years ago and hasn't been able to operate since, and would never have taken spent fuel waste anyway. No other waste location is anywhere near opening IN PART because the legal conditions of shipping the waste include SCE (and other NPPs) relinquishing legal responsibility for the waste they've made -- if Palmisano doesn't trust PVNPP to properly handle the storage of the waste (as he's stated), then he's sure not going to trust some operator that doesn't even run a nuclear power plant, is he? Of course not -- even though "proper management" is expected to consist of nothing more than having a guy with a pea-shooter walk around the waste canisters once or twice a day.

While they rust, in unseen places. (There's no way to inspect the canisters for developing leaks, and even if some portions of the outside COULD be inspected, the insides can't be, and the main pressure points underneath, which take the 200,000-pound weight, can't be, with any current technology.)

Meanwhile, Palmisano has thus far utterly ignored the very real prospect of neutralizing the Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 components of the waste, a process which is possible using high-energy lasers in the 10 to 15 MeV range, using a patent-pending process developed by Peter M. Livingston of Palos Verdes, California.

By destroying those two components of the waste in situ, three major problems with nuclear waste are solved: Most importantly, the waste is no longer a proliferation risk, meaning, it can no longer be made into nuclear bombs by terrorists, Trump, or any other fool.

Second, the long-term storage problem going out half a million years (caused mainly by the extremely toxic Plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,100 years) is largely solved, or rather reduced to "only" about 600 years, the life of the fission products in the waste (most fission products have half-lives of 30 years or less, meaning they would be practically completely decayed to stable isotopes within about six centuries (20 half-lives).

Our nation is barely 240 years old, and most of our infrastructure is already crumbling -- including the road and bridges on which the waste would need to be moved, but it can be neutralized right here at San Onofre.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the waste would no longer be a criticality risk. A criticality event can occur in spent fuel any time over the next umpteen millenniums because of the fissile isotopes -- U-235 and Pu-239. All you need for that to happen is something that places the spent fuel closer together, and the intrusion of water or some other neutron moderator: An airplane crash, deformation of the rods by ground movement, or tsunami, or other forces such as terrorist bombs. Even just having the fuel rods crumble and fall to the bottom of a dry cask through aging could gather enough fuel too close together, initiating a criticality event -- which is a large explosion, possible large enough to cause additional criticality events in other nearby spent fuel canisters. Adding water or some other moderator to a sufficient amount of deformed fuel would guarantee a catastrophic criticality event.

The spent fuel at San Onofre contains thousands of times more radioactivity than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs together released. A spent fuel fire, even without a criticality event, would be a disaster for southern California to the tune of tens of thousands of lives (mainly from cancer, which I can tell you from experience is nothing pleasant even if it doesn't kill you) and trillions of dollars. The wind blows inland here, across America, so it would be a national calamity the likes of which the world has never seen (even Chernoby and Fukushima together released (and are releasing) less radioactivity that could be released in a cascade of criticality events at San Onofre).

The "spent" nuclear fuel is not safe where it is, that's for sure. The need for thicker, stronger canisters IS what we need to be resolving right now, Mr. Palmisano is dead-wrong about that. "Moving forward" is beginning the process of fissile isotope neutralization. It's not looking for some sucker to take our waste, that era of mass-stupidity ended decades ago. Nobody wants the waste and they can get on the Internet to learn why it's not safe. Nobody is going to take it. Nobody is that stupid anymore. Not even Palo Verde will take our waste, even as they make their own massive quantities of nuclear waste. Diablo Canyon won't take it, even as they too continue to make their own waste through 2025 at least (the agreement to shut down then is not binding).

Tom Palmisano should stop looking past his own back yard for a solution. There are no cheap solutions, and the thin (1/2 inch to 5/8ths inch) canisters he is using are utterly inadequate for even short-term storage of the waste. 37 fuel assemblies in each one is far too many. (We were promised, when dry cask storage was first proposed for San Onofre about 15 years ago, only FOUR fuel assemblies in each canister, greatly reducing the risk of a criticality event and making the casks far easier to transport away from here if a place ever opened up. And we were promised 2-inch thick steel, not 5/8ths of an inch.)

The nuclear industry, if nothing else, is consistent in never living up to their assurances. They have utterly failed us in spent fuel management. It's time for the public to face the seriousness of this issue, because once the waste gets out -- and it will -- nothing can be done to prevent cancers and many other ailments throughout the world.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

OC Register article about spent fuel:


At San Onofre, spent nuclear fuel is getting special tomb

Aug. 27, 2016

Updated 10:18 p.m.
Wood squares mark the spots where containers of spent fuel will be encased in concrete at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The numbered cement walls in the foreground are also spent fuel.



• There are 3,855 spent fuel assemblies stored at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, from all three reactors that operated at the site over more than four decades.

• Two-thirds of those ­ 2,668 fuel assemblies ­ are cooling in the spent fuel pools.

• One-third ­ 1,187 assemblies ­ are housed in 50 above-ground dry casks.

SOURCE: Southern California Edison

• Edison will choose a general contractor to oversee San Onofre's $4.4 billion teardown this fall, probably in October. Three corporate teams are vying for that contract: Westinghouse/Bechtel, CB&I/Team Holtec/Black & Veatch, and Kiewit/Energy Solutions/AECOM.

• In addition to the $4.4 billion to permanently shutter San Onofre ­ which customers already have funded via their electric bills over the decades ­ there's the contentious matter of who'll pay the $4.7 billion in early-shutdown costs (largely to buy replacement power when premature tube wear in the new steam generators forced the reactors offline in 2012). Edison and consumer groups originally agreed that the overwhelming bulk of the premature-shutdown bill would be borne by ratepayers ($3.3 billion), while Edison's shareholders would shoulder the rest ($1.4 billion). That agreement was reopened in May after charges that Edison and state regulators had improper back-room talks about the deal. An administrative law judge is expected to make a recommendation on that soon.

More on decommissioning, and Edison's video explainers, at

Waves crash on the rocks below San Onofre's tsunami wall, but it's the only sound.

The pipes that roared when they sucked in 1.8 billion gallons of ocean water a day ­ pipes as wide as a Cadillac Coupe de Ville is long ­ are silent. The catch pools that once teemed with fish are still and dark. A cage for errant sea lions rests in a far corner, empty.

"They'd chase the fish in here," Jim Madigan said of the sea lions and the catch pools.

"We'd put them in the crates and take them to Laguna Beach to be checked out and returned to the ocean," added Madigan, who has worked at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in one capacity or another for 35 years.

"There was more than one repeat visitor."

Once, San Onofre was a marvel of modern engineering ­ splitting atoms to create heat, boiling water to spin turbines and creating electricity that fulfilled 18 percent of Southern California's demand. Now, it's a demolition project of mind-boggling proportions, overseen by a dozen government agencies.

It's expected to cost $4.4 billion, take 20 years and leave millions of pounds of spent nuclear fuel on the scenic bluff beside the blue Pacific until 2049 or so, because the federal government has dithered for generations on finding a permanent repository.

In this vacuum, contractors from Holtec International ­ one of only a handful of companies licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do dry-cask radiation storage in the U.S. ­ are at work. Construction of the controversial "concrete monolith" to protect San Onofre's stranded waste has begun, over the protests of critics who decry a "beachfront nuclear waste dump."


The reinforced concrete pad that will support the monolith is finished.

Last week, Holtec workers used cranes and trucks to maneuver the first of 75 giant tubes into place atop it. When those tubes are bolted in, concrete will be poured up to their necks, and they'll be topped off with a 24,000-pound steel-and-concrete lid. Earth will be piled around it so that it looks something like an underground bunker.

Southern California Edison, which operates the plant, would not share the Holtec contract or reveal its price tag, but San Onofre's owners have recovered more than $300 million from the federal government for its failure to dispose of nuclear waste, which is why dry-cask storage must be built in the first place. San Onofre's decommissioning plan sets aside $1.27 billion for future spent fuel management.

This is one of the first newly licensed Hi-Storm Umax dry-cask storage systems Holtec is building in the United States. Once it's complete ­ expected to be late next year ­ workers will begin the deliberate and delicate dance of removing all spent fuel from cooling pools beside each reactor.

The iconic twin domes you see from the highway and the beach don't reveal their enormity. They stand as tall as a 13-story building, and the adjacent pools holding their spent fuel are 25 feet wide, 60 feet long, about 40 to 50 feet deep and hold a half-million gallons of water.

When Southern California Edison begins removing the 2,668 fuel assemblies chilling there, bays to those enormous pools will open. Holtec storage canisters will be lowered in. Underwater, 37 spent fuel assemblies will be loaded into each canister and capped. The canister will be slipped into a "transfer cask," lifted from the pool and drained.

Then it will be loaded onto a truck, driven a few hundred yards to the Umax and lowered into one of those 75 tubes. The waste-filled canister will remain inside. The transfer cask will be removed. The tube will be capped.

This will be repeated more than 70 times, until all the fuel in the more vulnerable pools is entombed in more stable dry-cask storage. That's slated to be done by mid-2019.


The system will become something of a real-time experiment: Edison is partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute to develop inspection techniques to monitor the casks as they age. The casks' integrity over time, while holding hotter "high burn-up" fuel, is a major concern of critics.

"Burn-up" ­ i.e., the amount of uranium that undergoes fission ­ has increased over time, allowing utilities to suck more power out of nuclear fuel before replacing it, federal regulators say. It first came into wide use in America in the latter part of the last century, and how it will behave in short-term storage containers (which, pending changes in U.S. policy on nuclear cleanup, must be used for longer-term storage) remains a topic of debate.

Tom Palmisano, chief nuclear officer at Edison and vice president for decommissioning, leans over a picture on a computer screen.

The image is a cut-away of a storage cask, and inside the cask's ventilation ducts is a tiny, motorized camera. One version of the robot can attach to metal surfaces via magnets; another can attach to nonmetal surfaces via suction.

"The tooling to go inside and inspect these things is being developed ­ it's an industrywide effort," Palmisano said. "We've got visual inspection capability, and we're working on other quantifiable inspection capabilities."

But dry-cask technology is not new, he said. Nuclear power plants in the U.S. have used it since 1986, and an analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute found that it would take at least 80 years before a severe crack could form in a dry storage canister.

The Umax uses the most corrosion-resistant grade of stainless steel; its design exceeds California earthquake requirements, and it protects against hazards such as water, fire or tsunamis.

Critics cast skeptical eyes on those claims.

They don't disagree that dry storage is safer than the spent fuel pools, but activist Donna Gilmore says officials gloss over the potential for serious cracking ­ a bigger risk in a moist, salty, oceanfront environment such as San Onofre.

Once a crack starts, it would continue to grow through the wall of the canister, undetected, until it leaked radiation, Gilmore said.

Other countries use thicker-walled casks than those licensed in America, and she believes we should, too.


What everyone wants is to remove the ensconced "stranded waste" from San Onofre as soon as possible, and the only way that can happen is if the federal government takes action.

Palmisano said energy is best expended pushing that forward, not arguing over canisters.

On that front, he is cautiously optimistic.

In January, the U.S. Department of Energy launched a new push to create temporary nuclear waste storage sites in regions eager for the business, currently in West Texas and New Mexico. Several of those could be up and running while the prickly question of coming up with a permanent site is hashed out.

There could be a plan, and a place, for this waste within the next 10 years, Palmisano said ­ but that would require congressional action, which in turn would likely require much prodding from the public.

"We are frustrated and, frankly, outraged by the federal government's failure to perform," he said. "I have fuel I can ship today, and throughout the next 15 years. Give me a ZIP code and I'll get it there."


San Onofre's heavily protected control room was built in an airtight envelope so that nothing outside would affect the people running the reactors. It once glowed with a dizzying array of lights and screens and switches. Now, it's mostly dark.

The containment domes that protected the reactors are patched where holes were made to install enormous new ­ some say souped-up ­ steam generators that were the plant's undoing. Labyrinths of metal, seven stories high ­ which once pulsed as high-pressure pipes funneled steam heated to 1,000 degrees ­ are now cold.

Diablo Canyon, the state's only other nuclear plant, is slated to close in 2025. An era has come to an end in California.

"Whether you're for or against nuclear power, it's really a shame for investors and ratepayers and employees that this facility had to be shut down prematurely," Palmisano said.

"It was a very viable facility."

Contact the writer:

Contact information for Ace Hoffman:

Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:
Subscribe to my free newsletter today!
Email: ace [at]

Please conserve resources: Do not print this email unless absolutely necessary.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Types of Ionizing Radiation and the EPA's new proposed "emergency" standards...

This is a brief overview of the four types of ionizing radiation, followed by a discussion of the EPA's proposed new rules for "emergency" radiation limits after an accidental release of radioactive materials.

What is radiation and why is it harmful?

There are four types of ionizing radiation: Alpha, Beta, Neutron and Gamma (and x-ray, which is a lower-energy emission than gamma rays, and thus less damaging, but otherwise identical to gamma ray emissions).

There are 20 levels or "weighting factors" of radiation damage from various emissions, depending on energy levels of the emission and type of emission/penetration capabilities (alpha, beta, neutron and gamma/x-ray each penetrate differently).

Beta particles, gamma rays and x-rays are all classified as level 1 -- the least damaging for a given energy level. Alpha particles are level 20 -- the most damaging. Neutrons are classified at level 5, 10, or 20 depending on their energy level. Interestingly, the highest level of damage from neutrons is neither at the highest or lowest energy level, but in what might be called the middle energy level (100 keV to 2 MeV).

Additional classifications of radiation damage depends on what, if anything, the radioactive isotope "targets" (bone, thyroid, etc.). All such classifications are generally based on damage to an adult healthy (white) male.

Most biological damage from radiation is probably due to the creation of "free radicals" in the body: Free radicals are molecules which become electrically unbalanced ("charged"). A radioactive emission can knock an electron out of its orbit around a nucleus. The unbalanced atom will then grab an electron from something else, which may then do the same thing to something else, and so on through lower and lower electron bonding energy levels. If a DNA strand is involved, such events can permanently mutate that DNA strand. RNA can also be damaged, which might cause a cell to start producing a poison instead of a useful protein. If the damage simply causes cell death that's usually not so bad unless it's a heart or brain cell, which are not replaced during a lifetime. Most other cells in the body have limited lifespans anyway and die (self-destruct might be a better word) with various average life spans. Intestinal lining cells, for example, only live a few days, taste bud cells live about two weeks. However, if the damage causes either rapid (or slowed) cell division it can be much more dangerous.

A radioactive isotope is not the same thing as a radioactive emission. A radioactive isotope has a "half-life." A half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of a given quantity of a given type of isotope to decay. A radioactive emission is ejected from a radioactive isotope at the moment of decay. Different radioactive isotopes decay with different radioactive emissions, and those emissions have different energy levels. There is no way to predict what the precise energy level will be, nor when the emission will occur, or what direction it will take as it leaves the radioactive isotope. Many types of radioactive decays result in another radioactive isotope being created from the original isotope. Sometimes as many as 20 different elements are created and then altered again, before a stable isotope (such as lead) is reached.

For alpha and beta particles, the emission lasts only until the particle (alpha or beta) slows down from about 98% of the speed of light for alpha particles, and 99.7% for beta particles at the moment of emission, to "terrestrial" speeds. This takes very little time: on the order of a billionth of a second (give or take a few orders of magnitude).

After they slow down, alpha particles become helium atoms, but initially without their electron shells. They will grab other atom's electrons very quickly, though, since most atoms hold their outermost electrons much less tightly than helium atoms hold theirs.

Beta particles become electrons when they slow down.

What slows alpha and beta particles down (and does the damage to biological systems) is their interactions with electrons, atomic nuclei, and/or molecules. Alpha and beta particles are "charged" particles and only have to be near another charged particle to have an effect, and to be effected by other charged sub-atomic particles. Alpha particles are thousands of times larger than beta particles, and twice as strongly charged (in the opposite direction: Positive instead of negative).

Whereas alpha particles "blunderbuss" into electrons, atoms and molecules, beta particles are so small and travel so fast that when they are initially ejected that they pass by other electrons, atoms and molecules so fast that they don't have time to do much damage. It's when they slow down a bit, having passed thousands of charged particles at nearly the speed of light (each charged particle they pass acts as a little brake) that beta particles can do the most damage. For this reason, the nuclear industry's oft-repeated claim that "low energy beta particles" such as from tritium aren't very damaging is utterly false!

Gamma and x-ray emissions are neutrally charged and don't slow down; instead their energy is dissipated by one of three methods: 1) Crashing into an electron and knocking it out of its orbit (this can make the electron a beta particle). The gamma ray disappears. This is known as the photoelectric effect. 2) At higher energy levels, a lower-energy gamma ray or x-ray might also be produced. This is known as the Compton effect. 3) At very high energy levels, gamma rays can also produce a positron when it collides with an electron. This is known as electron-positron pair production.

Neutrons are electrically neutral (hence the name). This neutral charge allows them to interact more directly with the nucleus of an atom and/or with electrons, since they are neither repelled nor attracted to other (charged) sub-atomic particles. Neutrons usually decay into a proton, an electron and an "electron anti-neutrino." The half-life of a free neutron is about 10 minutes.

Nuclear reactors depend on neutron emissions to operate: The neutrons split other atoms, giving off more neutrons in a "chain reaction." In a light water reactor such as all American reactors (both Pressurized Water Reactors and Boiling Water Reactors) the neutrons are slowed with normal ("light") water which acts as a moderator. The reason reactors use a moderator is because at higher speeds the neutrons won't split ("fission") other atoms.

Only a few isotopes of a few types of atoms can be fissioned, including several isotopes of Uranium and Plutonium. Although Thorium cannot be split, Th-232 can absorb a neutron, then the Th-232 transmutes, first becoming Protactinium-233 by beta emission, then the Pa--233 transmutes (also by beta decay) into a fissile isotope of Uranium, U-233.

Spent fuel also emits neutrons, and special "neutron absorbers" are placed around the spent fuel to prevent the neutrons from getting out. If the spent fuel assemblies are crushed together (for example, by an earthquake, terrorist bomb or airplane strike) and water or some other moderator is present to slow the neutrons down, a "criticality event" becomes possible -- an uncontrolled chain reaction, producing enormous amounts of heat and fission products in a few thousands or even millionths of a second.

Neutrons are very damaging to biological systems but fortunately, isolated radioactive particles in the environment do not emit neutrons.

Setting permissible levels of radiation:

The EPA's proposed changes are specifically for accidental releases, so that at worst (so to speak) only the immediate area needs to be evacuated. This is to aid the nuclear industry so that it can keep operating with barely a blip. Any reasonable person looking at the future of nuclear power can see that A) A meltdown somewhere in America is practically inevitable sooner or later, and B) A major accidental released at, say, Indian Point would require long-term evacuation of New York City, whereas with the new limits, they probably would not evacuate NYC at all, even after a full-blown meltdown (or two) at Indian Point.

There are worse accidents possible than even a meltdown, however: A fire hot enough to burn the uranium dioxide fuel pellets, for example. Such an event at Indian Point would almost surely require the permanent evacuation of New York City and the surrounding area of lower New York state, as well as all of Connecticut and New Jersey, perhaps an even larger area.

These proposed new EPA guidelines do nothing to protect the citizens of NYC, and will be responsible for a plague of cancers in the decades after an accident. Radiation levels equivalent to 250 chest x-rays per year will be permissible during the period after an accident. Granted, moving all those millions of people to "temporary" shelters would also be hazardous to their health, especially their mental well-being, which is probably the underlying justification for the EPA's new rulings.

Of course, no careful studies of "hot spots" after an accident will be done -- they never are done after a radioactive release -- so individual dose assays will be impossible, and there will be no follow-up of individuals as they move around the country to get away from the depressed local area -- again, there never are such studies. If ANY government research is done later, it will be of the "healthy survivors," not the miscarriages, stillbirths, and non-fatal ailments such as inflammation, lowered IQs, deformities, etc.. They might study lung cancer deaths, but that would be about it, and those studies would probably be done in the first couple of years, long before most lung cancer deaths would even appear.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:
Subscribe to my free newsletter today!
Email: ace [at]

Please conserve resources: Do not print this email unless absolutely necessary.

Note: This communication may have been intercepted in secret, without permission, and in violation of our right to privacy by the National Security Agency or some other agency or private contractor.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Before moving the waste to an "interim" storage site, neutralize it (as much as possible)


July 29th, 2016

To Whom It May Concern, Department of Energy

The idea that future generations, 500,000 years or more from now, can "consent" to having nuclear waste placed in their midst is ludicrous. And at the rate we are generating nuclear waste (about 10 tons per day in the U.S.A.; 50 tons per day globally) there isn't enough space on this planet to store all the waste that already exists, let alone what will be produced over the next few decades, centuries, and millennia.

Transporting all that waste represents yet another hazard that the public should have a right to consent -- or not -- to, but who in their right mind will want hundreds or even thousands of shipments of nuclear waste going through their community -- especially since there is zero likelihood that those communities will be reimbursed for the risk they take of having their neighborhoods permanently contaminated if there is an accident along the way?

And speaking of reimbursement, how far into the future does the DOE expect to compensate a community for taking the waste for "interim" storage? America has tried for more than 50 years to find a permanent repository, and Yucca Mountain was a scientific failure, not just a political one. There were groundwater seepage issues, rainwater leakage issues, volcanic activity nearby, earthquakes, and metallurgical issues that could not be dealt with for the time frames necessary to store the waste.

The Yucca Mountain project was strongly opposed in Nevada, and no other community in the country has ever stepped up to willingly become a permanent nuclear waste repository -- and only a few locations could even be considered because of the incredible difficulty -- no, impossibility -- in predicting how the earth will behave for the many millennia the waste will remain toxic. And all locations are susceptible to asteroid impacts and earthquakes, so really there is no safe place for nuclear waste.

And everybody knows it.

There are two broad categories of radioactive hazards in spent nuclear fuel. One is the fissionable isotopes, and the other is the fission products themselves.

Regarding the fissionable isotopes, there are two main concerns. One is the proliferation risk that the waste will be stolen, the fissionable isotopes isolated (possibly by a newly-developed laser separation process, which does not require hundreds of centrifuges and massive industrial installations to accomplish). A nuclear bomb can then be made from the enriched product of the separation process.

The other problem with the fissionable isotopes is that if nothing is done about the Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 in the spent fuel, the proliferation risk will continue for thousands of years, since the half-life of U-235 is about 700 million years, and the half life of Pu-239 is about 24,100 years. But something CAN be done: Using a laser which is emitting photons in the 10 to 15 MeV range, these two isotopes can be safely fissioned in a controlled manner, while the spent fuel is still in the fuel rods.

Although such lasers do not currently exist, there is little doubt they could be developed, and there is no doubt the process would work because the breakdown of these isotopes has been proven with other methods such as with a linear accelerator. The process does not even take very long and can produce waste energy which can be harnessed to mitigate some or all of the cost.

By eliminating these two isotopes using the method described above, which has a patent pending filed by Peter M. Livingston, a scientist who witnessed a number of bomb tests at the Nevada Test Site and has studied the problem for many years, the two greatest difficulties with spent fuel are almost completely eliminated: The long term storage problem, and the proliferation risk.

What is left are the fission products. Most of these have half-lives of three decades or less (there are a few, which I call the ignoble seven, with half-lives of many millennia or even a million years or more, but these are present in only trace amounts).

Within about six centuries, almost all of the fission products will have decayed to stable elements. Thus, the longest that an interim OR permanent waste repository would need to be carefully monitored would be about 600 years. Granted, that's no piece of cake, considering our nation is only about 240 years old and most of our buildings, roads, dams, bridges and other infrastructure, much of which is well under 50 years old, is already crumbling -- but it's much more manageable than 500,000 years, a length of time so enormous that nobody can predict the consequences of trying to store hazardous waste that long.

Below is a link to Peter Livingston's patent for a process to neutralize the fissionable isotopes in spent fuel.

Under no circumstances should this suggestion encourage the production of more nuclear waste. During reactor operation, nothing is more dangerous than a superheated 150-ton pile of super-critical nuclear fuel, and when the fuel is first removed from the reactor, the remaining short-lived fission products keep the fuel assemblies so thermally hot that a spent fuel fire could occur at any time unless the fuel is safely stored deep under water. Such an event would be catastrophic, as we have seen in Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island and elsewhere. A spent fuel pool or dry cask storage facility fire could be worse than all of those events combined. Dry casks and spent fuel pools are subject to risks from airplane strikes, earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorism, and even just manufacturing errors.

There are numerous cleaner, cheaper, more manageable methods for generating electricity -- even for propulsion on aircraft carriers and submarines. With some 600 military bases around the globe, our aircraft can already quickly reach any point on the planet without the need of aircraft carriers at all, and for stealth operation, a nuclear submarine has to shut off its nuclear reactor anyway, and operate on batteries. Both ships and subs normally have to stay with a large fleet of non-nuclear ships such as landing craft transporters, oilers, mine sweepers, frigates, destroyers, etc.. And even though they are considered "robust," a nuclear reactor on board a ship or sub can melt down, causing a catastrophic release of radiation which will spread throughout the oceans. This has probably already happened, although the evidence is impossible to accurately obtain, but more than half a dozen nuclear subs have been lost at sea, including two U.S. submarines, and in all cases, the exact cause of the catastrophe has not been positively ascertained.

Iran doesn't need nuclear power, China doesn't need nuclear power, Russia doesn't need nuclear power. Most people in Japan probably wish they never had nuclear power. Nobody else needs it, and we certainly don't need it.

The Department of Energy has been unable to solve the problem of nuclear waste, despite more than half a century and tens of billions of dollars of prior effort. This is because nuclear radiation destroys any molecular or chemical bond in the universe. DoE made a hollow promise to take back the nuclear waste from commercial reactors, a promise they have never kept and are now paying hundreds of millions of dollars per reactor for. It is time to eliminate that promise because nuclear waste cannot be safely kept -- and eliminating that promise would IMMEDIATELY cause the shut down all remaining commercial reactors. That would be a good thing.

No community will ever want nuclear waste. No consent can ever be given by people as yet unborn. No one can predict the consequences of storing anything anywhere for 500,000 years.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

URL for Dr. Peter M. Livingston's patent application for reducing the storage time of spent nuclear fuel: (goes to the USPTO).

Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:

Please conserve resources: Do not print this email unless absolutely necessary.

Note: This communication may have been intercepted in secret, without permission, and in violation of our right to privacy by the National Security Agency or some other agency or private contractor.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Nuclear security, neutralizing nuclear waste, storing SanO's waste at Palo Verde NPP

Last week (June 30th, 2016) I gave a 75-minute presentation on "consent-based siting" of nuclear waste, covering the basics of nuclear reactors and the various problems of used reactor core assemblies. I've posted that presentation online here:

(Note one correction: The half-life of Uranium-235 is about 700,000,000 years.)

Below is a discussion of security at nuclear power plants, a plan for neutralizing the waste (also discussed in the presentation), and a look at the possibility of moving the spent fuel at San Onofre, a closed nuclear power plant, to Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, which is scheduled to remain open for another 20 years. Also included are comments on moving the waste to PVNPP from Tom Palmisano, Vice President of Decommissioning and Chief Nuclear Officer San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Items shown below:
(1) Security at nuclear facilities
(2) A plan for neutralizing the U-235 and Pu-239 in nuclear waste
(3) Moving nuclear waste to an "interim" storage facility at Palo Verde
(4) Contact information for Ace Hoffman

(1) Security at nuclear facilities:

We talked briefly about security at nuclear facilities and you said you thought they were "very secure" locations.

I beg to differ:

The shooter at the Orlando nightclub was a security guard for the firm that "protects" 90% of America's nuclear power plants.

At a nuclear reactor in India, the head of security there turned on his fellow guards a few years ago, killing three. Fortunately he was acting alone and did not continue the attack to the facility itself.

This week in Dallas, Texas, a single shooter was able to kill five police officers and wound seven more before being subdued. The attacker claimed to have planted bombs throughout that city. And it comes as no surprise, considering the "skill" of the attacker, that he has been identified as a trained U.S. military veteran with experience in Afghanistan, and in the reserves.

If there is any better proof that security at our nuclear facilities is inadequate (the exact number is "classified" but is well known to be between three and five guards at any one time), one need only look at Baghdad, where one car bomb killed over 200 people in an instant. Or Beirut in 1983, when one truck bomb killed 241 American servicemen and women, along with over 60 others (mostly French troops).

More than 20 suicidal terrorists were involved in the 9-11 tragedy.

Most of the "iron coffins" (lookout posts) at San Onofre are unmanned at any one time. Security guards patrolling the spent fuel carry only sidearms and generally walk alone, and only periodically cover any one area.

The same technique used by the Dallas police this morning to kill the last suspect -- a remote controlled robot carrying a bomb -- can be used by terrorists next time. Not to mention flying drone bombs which can be controlled from more than a mile away with live video on board the drone.

After 9-11 there was a call for permanent anti-aircraft installations around each nuclear facility, which would have numerous problems and was never implemented. "No-fly zones" were also suggested and in some cases may have been implemented, but only for a few weeks and only below 5,000 feet. Problems with adding anti-aircraft installations would include the horrific possibility of shooting down the wrong planes, or of failing to shoot down the attacking plane(s) in the mere seconds it (they) would be in range, as well as either inadequate fields of fire or fields of fire that actually include the facility itself, along with extremely high costs for installation and maintenance of the facility, and continuous training and retraining of the personnel.

According to a National Academy of Sciences study, spent fuel dry cask storage containers cannot survive more than about 20 minutes in a jet fuel fire (the exact length of time and other details are "classified"). Yet the current plan for an "island" of sunken dry cask pods at San Onofre does NOT include a system to allow run-off of jet fuel, which the study suggested is imperative to prevent such a condition. Diablo Canyon's dry cask pad is also not designed for such a catastrophe. In fact, no dry cask facility in America seems to have taken into account the dangers revealed in the NAS study.

There should be no question that the security forces at any U.S. nuclear facility -- including San Onofre -- can be quickly overwhelmed. An estimate by the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) of $8 million per year spent per reactor for security is clearly a grossly inadequate amount. The current designs for spent fuel storage are grossly inadequate from a security standpoint, and are not "hardened" in any significant way.

(2) A plan for neutralizing the U-235 and Pu-239 in nuclear waste:

Dr. Peter M. Livingston, who has ample experience both in attending U.S. nuclear bomb tests in Nevada and working with radiochemistry issues, is not the first or only scientist to suggest that spent fuel nuclear waste should be neutralized to whatever extent is possible. However, as far as I know he is the only one with a patent (pending) on the subject.

It is well established, through experimentation with linear accelerators, that photons in the 10 to 15 million electron volt (MeV) range are capable of splitting fissile materials: Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239, the "active" ingredients in nuclear fuel. (U-235 is the main fissile isotope in "fresh" fuel (with a small quantity of U-234, which is also fissile), but Pu-239 is produced from U-238 during criticality).

When fuel is removed from the reactor, it is because too many "poisons" have built up in the spent fuel ("poisons" (an industry technical term) are isotopes which are not fissile but which can absorb neutrons and block the chain reaction).

After use in the reactor, there is still "plenty" of fissile material in spent fuel. (Some propose that the fuel can be reprocessed to extract the fissile material, but this is a very dirty and expensive process which yields low-quality fuel that can only be reused approximately twice.)

Fissile isotopes have half-lives of 700 million years (U-235) and 24,100 years (Pu-239). The half-life of Pu-239, as well as its chemical ("heavy-metal") properties, make it extremely hazardous: A few millionths of a gram is sufficient to cause lung cancer in humans.

Both of these isotopes, however, can be broken down by photons in the 10 to 15 MeV range. It is reasonably certain that "table-top" lasers can be manufactured which will output such high-powered photons, making reduction/neutralization of these isotopes highly feasible. This process is described in Dr. Livingston's patent application (URL below).

Designing any type of repository for spent fuel that will last as long as plutonium's half-life, let alone ten to twenty half-lives (the standard measurement for the existence of a radioisotope is 10 to 20 times its half-life) is virtually impossible. The pyramids, for example, are only about 5,000 years old, 1/5 of one half-life of plutonium.

When neutralized, U-235 and Pu-239 produce additional fission products, which are already in abundance in spent fuel (and virtually non-existent in "fresh" nuclear fuel).

Fission products generally have half-lives around 30 years or less (with seven long-lived exceptions which are present in "trace" quantities in spent fuel).

Thus, protecting society from fission products is a much shorter proposition: The United States is just over 240 years old. In that amount of time, most of the fission products would reduce by radioactive decay to less than 1% of their total. Six centuries is enough time for the fission products to reduce to approximately <0.01% of their original total. While six centuries is still far longer than our nation has existed, it is a much more calculable, and manageable, problem.

Perhaps most importantly, U-235 and Pu-239 are both "bomb-making material." Therefore, neutralizing them completely removes the proliferation risk from the spent fuel, as well as the possibility of a criticality event during transport or storage.

Follow-up comment from Dr. Peter M. Livingston:

Actually low emittance cathodes have been explored fairly extensively.
Their major utility is providing the electron source for various accelerators, including the CERN device.

Here is an example reference.

I don't think that the low emittance cathode advances have been incorporated into the desktop FEL's design. Stanford had a good design going, but I think the team fell apart when the lead physicist died. It is that design which I recall.

Now I think coupling the idea of this emitter with a device to photofission spent nuclear waste is a matter of publicity to get momentum back behind the FEL design and testing.

As you know, Yucca mountain or its equivalent is 500,000 years. The probability that a cask will fail far sooner seems to be unity.

So I think that arousing public interest in de-activating spent rods by photofission is the way to go now.


(3) Moving nuclear waste to an "interim" storage facility at Palo Verde:

Palo Verde is located in a far safer location than San Onofre. It is not in an earthquake zone, a tsunami zone, or near even 1/10th of the population that San Onofre is located in the midst of. The nearest major city to Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant is Phoenix, approximately 60 miles away. Southern California Edison is a part-owner of Palo Verde and much of the profit that Arizona Public Service makes from that facility is due to selling power to California.

Transport of nuclear waste -- especially if it has been neutralized first by the Livingston process described above -- is far better than transporting the same waste to, for example Texas or even New Mexico, simply because the total distance is much less -- tens of thousands of miles less, when accounting for the ~150 trips that will have to be made. (Overall risk is a function of the number of trips times distance traveled times quantity (radioactivity) of each load times strength of each container times travel time per trip.)

Below is Tom Palmisano's letter from approximately one year ago to Marni Magda regarding moving the waste to Palo Verde, which was sent to me by Donna Gilmore. Here are my responses to each of his points:

1) ANY solution involving moving the waste will require a new license from the NRC so this point is not significant.

2) ANY solution, according to the Department of Energy (DOE) and before that the Blue Ribbon Commission, will require "incentives." Undoubtedly a for-profit nuclear facility and a community which already has a nuclear waste dump in its midst would be much more willing to accept "incentives" than a community which does not already have nuclear waste and an operating nuclear power plant. It might make the difference between a "profitable" nuclear power facility and one like the dozen or so that have announced closure dates due to unprofitable conditions, or have already closed.

As for the waste being a "significant liability" (Tom Palmisano's words) that is true here too -- but much more so because of the added threats of earthquakes, tsunamis, and the larger population surrounding the waste. Therefore SCE would be significantly reducing its own liability by moving the waste and should be willing to pay handsomely to reduce that liability.

3) The problem of license transfer is no different than it would be for an interim or consolidated storage facility, so this is a straw-man argument when it comes from someone who endorses either of those solutions.

4) Transport issues can be significantly reduced by the Livingston method described above, as well as by building up the rail and/or road infrastructure between San Onofre and Palo Verde. The distance needing structural improvement is far less than for the proposed sites in Texas and New Mexico (neither of which are likely to come to fruition anyway).

5) Who will hold "title" of the fuel is obviously SCE's main concern: They will oppose ANY plan which does not include transfer of title. But to claim that they are more capable than APS in protecting the fuel is another straw-man argument, considering that SCE sub-contracts security, as well as subcontracting the manufacture of the dry storage casks and the spent fuel island itself.

Tom's summary) Tom Palmisano's belief that there is widespread support for an interim or consolidated nuclear waste storage facility anywhere is not supported by facts. If it were, then surely the DOE would have scheduled one of their meetings on the subject in those communities. They did not do so. It must be noted that none of Tom's arguments against storing the waste are based on increased safety of the large population that surrounds San Onofre. Rather, he describes the risk as a "significant liability" to Palo Verde, essentially ignoring the fact that it is an even greater risk where it is.


The main disadvantage to moving the waste to Palo Verde, or to any interim or consolidated storage facility, is that such an action is an "enabler" for other reactors to stay open, since they can then assume that the waste they generate can be moved somewhere eventually. This is a foolhardy, serious and significant problem since each reactor produces approximately 250 pounds of waste per day (according to the nuclear industry's own estimates).

There are currently approximately 2,500 dry cask storage containers around the country, at approximately 70 sites, with more than 11,000 containers worth of spent fuel in total in existence today, mostly still in spent fuel pools and in the reactors themselves. A new dry cask is needed somewhere in the USA approximately every one to three days.

Pretending that ANY solution other than "stop making more waste" will save America from a catastrophic spent fuel accident or terrorist attack is simply irrational -- even with Dr. Livingston's proposal, and even with interim, consolidated, or permanent storage solutions. This fact should be recognized and verbalized by the Citizen's Engagement Panel of San Onofre.

Yucca Mountain was not just a political boondoggle, it had serious and unresolved technical issues. The Yucca Mountain team of thousands of scientists was free to propose an alternative type of solution but could not find one. (They were not permitted to propose a geologic repository in another location, because all such locations had already been rejected.)

Lastly, it should be noted that, prior to the permanent shut-down of San Onofre, virtually no one here was paying attention to the problem of spent fuel. Now, although that situation has changed significantly, simply moving the waste to make it anyone else's problem, and attempting to transfer "ownership" of the waste to anyone else, including the Federal government, is NOT actually solving the problem. It's just passing the buck. We as a "united nation" MUST do better than that and as de facto owners of one of the largest piles of nuclear waste in the country, it is soCal's duty to attempt to truly solve the problem, not just pass it on to someone else. Anything less does a grave disservice to our children, their children, their children's children, etc. for the foreseeable future.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

URL for Dr. Peter M. Livingston's patent application for reducing the storage time of spent nuclear fuel: (goes to the USPTO).

Tom Palmisano's letter to Marni Magda:

Dear Marni,

Thanks for your email. This is a good question and I appreciate your raising it to me. Let me give you some initial thoughts.

1. SCE is a 15.8% owner of Palo Verde. There are six other owners with varying percentages. Arizona Public Service is the majority owner and operator. They hold the NRC operating license, not SCE.

2. I don't know if the other six owners would be agreeable to storing San Onofre used fuel at the Palo Verde site. Since we are not the sole owner, it would need to be a decision all the owners agreed with. This would represent a significant liability for these other six owners and I doubt that they would be in favor of that.

3. Even if the other owners agreed, we would have to explore who would own and be responsible for the fuel, and who's NRC part 50 license the fuel would be stored under. Palo Verde is licensed to possess and store their nuclear fuel. They are not licensed to possess and store San Onofre's used fuel. Assuming we could transport and store fuel there, we might have to license and build a 50.72 ISFSI to store San Onofre's used fuel.

4. As you are aware, there are a number of transportation issues that need to be resolved no matter where we ship fuel to.

5. From an SCE perspective, our thought with offsite Consolidated Interim Storage is we would want the private party or DOE to take title to the fuel when it leaves SONGS. We would be concerned about maintaining title to the fuel and liability for an offsite location not under our direct control. With the proposed commercial facilities in West Texas and New Mexico, there initial thoughts are they or DOE would take title to the fuel.

My bottom line is I think it is very unlikely we could ever reach an agreement to store used fuel at Palo Verde. I think are best chance of success in the relatively short term is to advocate strongly for the private Consolidated Interim Storage Facilities in West Texas or New Mexico. The respective companies are interested, the local communities are supportive and there appears to be some reasonable level of state and federal support.

I'd be happy to talk to you further about this. Let me know if you'd like to set up a phone call or meeting.

Best Regards,

Tom [Palmisano, VP of Decommissioning and CNO at SCE]

(4) Contact information for Ace Hoffman:

Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:

Please conserve resources: Do not print this email unless absolutely necessary.

Note: This communication may have been intercepted in secret, without permission, and in violation of our right to privacy by the National Security Agency or some other agency or private contractor.

Addendum (added 7/9/2016:16:53):

Comment on liability from Donna Gilmore:

"[R]egarding liability.  Edison already has a certain percent of liability at Palo Verde and they are trusting APS to manage that facility, so that should be considered an endorsement or trust in APS.
"The way the liability would work is the percent of ownership and liability would go up for Edison, SDG&E and the other owners of San Onofre waste. Anaheim is one of those cities.  They may probably trust APS more than Edison to manage the waste, as may other California cities.

"If we could store the waste in safer containers first, they may be more inclined to take it.  The cost savings would be significant. The transport is the scariest part."


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

California State Lands Commission screws the public, kisses up to PG&E.

Dear Readers,

Let's do some math. Please don't panic.

According to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (DCNPP) supplies enough power for approximately 2,000,000 homes. Yesterday (June 28, 2016) the California State Lands Commission (CSLC) gave PG&E permission to continue operating DCNPP for another 10 years without an Environmental Impact Review (EIR). However, if the rules of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) were properly followed by the CSLC, an EIR would be required.

Allowing DCNPP to operate for ten more years (until their current Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license runs out) will allow DCNPP to create nearly 2,000,000 pounds of spent nuclear fuel waste -- about one pound for each home it services. They'll be allowed to do this despite there being nowhere to put the waste, except in flimsy (1/2 inch thick) casks -- about 50 more of them will be required -- on California's earthquake-prone coast.

One conflagration of one dry cask could cost California hundreds of billions of dollars in lost real estate values, lost lives, lost tourism, lost agriculture, lost manufacturing, and lost clean water (the famous California Aqueduct could be contaminated permanently).

And of course, if one of the earthquake faults near (or even not so near) DCNPP shakes the plant while it's running, an even more catastrophic meltdown could occur, costing California trillions of dollars and even forcing the permanent evacuation of Los Angeles!

But perhaps what's really sad is that the Lands Commission -- headed by a man who would like to be California's next governor, Gavin Newsom -- had a chance to add a conservatively estimated $30 Billion dollars in property values to California homes, and to get tens of thousands of Californians who are currently unemployed on the payroll, and to force PG&E to shut Diablo Canyon, while providing good jobs for all 1,500 current employees of the plant.

All of this could occur by going solar, which PG&E claims they are now committed to doing anyway -- eventually.

A team of just three rooftop solar installers can put up a solar unit on a house in one day. That unit would provide a net positive energy payback for the state of California -- it would feed more power to the grid than it takes off the grid on cloudy days or at night. So the 1,500 employees at Diablo Canyon could, instead, install 2,500 solar rooftops per week, or 125,000 per year. If a statewide initiative were designed to rapidly replace power for the 2,000,000 households served by DCNPP with solar power, they could all be converted to solar power within a year or two.

This would increase the value of each home by approximately $15,000, yielding an increase in home values of roughly $30 billion dollars for homeowners in California.

But no. Instead, Gavin Newsom and the two other commissioners unanimously voted yesterday to risk a meltdown at Diablo Canyon, and to create 2,000,000 pounds of additional spent nuclear fuel which will have to be carefully monitored for thousands of years, and which will always be at risk from terrorism, from the large unstoppable forces of mother nature, from manufacturing errors of the casks, as well as -- perhaps most importantly, from the equally unstoppable small forces of mother nature: Rust. The dry casks are susceptible to stress corrosion cracking as soon as their outer temperature drops to the point where salts can (and will) form within microscopic cracks that invariably cover the surfaces of the casks. Some of the casks that are currently at the site have already reached that temperature point.

Trusting in the Department of Energy (DOE) to move the casks to either an "interim storage site" (which doesn't exist) or to a permanent repository (which also doesn't exist) is foolhardy planning for a state commission tasked with protecting the public interest -- especially since the DOE has stated that they expect it to take "decades" before such a place can accept spent fuel nuclear waste -- and even that timeframe is probably wishful thinking. Additional decades may be required before DCNPP's waste could be moved, because fuel from older, closed nuclear power plants is expected to be moved first.

Making matters worse, the deal PG&E signed last week with Friends of the Earth (FoE), the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility (A4NR) and other groups (including their own workers, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)) is contingent on numerous what-ifs, such as approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). PG&E can cancel the agreement at any time and instead seek a license renewal from the NRC (a lap-dog regulatory agency which has NEVER denied a license extension to any reactor anywhere), and keep operating the plant for 20, 40 or even 60 more years or longer, which would create millions of pounds more nuclear waste, and risk a catastrophe which will knock California back into the stone age.

Thanks to Gavin Newsom and the other commissioners, California will remain at risk of becoming the next Fukushima or Chernobyl as long as Diablo Canyon stays open, and do so without the environmental review that should have been done before the plant opened.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lies, damned lies and the nuclear industry!

Three important nuclear power events occurred in the past seven days -- one in Nebraska and two in California -- which together show just how doomed and unworkable nuclear power really is.

In Nebraska, the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) Board of Directors unanimously decided to shut down Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power plant because its cost of operation could not be justified against the current and expected future price of natural gas, solar and wind power (but mainly natural gas). Certainly natural gas prices are at an unnatural low compared to the price of oil and nuclear power, and that might change over the coming years, but natural gas prices cannot go up too much if they are to stay competitive with renewable energy prices -- which are going to continue to plummet over the next few decades.

Solar panels thinner than a human hair have been developed in the labs. They don't use many natural resources to make. Solar panels as flexible as a human hair have also been developed. They can be placed virtually anywhere. Wind turbine output keeps going up for the exact same land requirements, which of course, are already minimal to begin with. Power requirements of all the major household appliances keep coming down as better motors, coolers and pumps are developed. The future is bright for renewables, and getting brighter.

All this spelled doom for Fort Calhoun, a "small" (478 megawatts, the smallest operating reactor in the United States) lone reactor that cost about $178 million dollars to build when construction began in 1966, and now costs over $250 million annually to operate. It was "simply an economic decision" to close the facility according to the operators.

Being so old and run-down, it went offline yesterday suddenly, for a turbine issue, (its speed controller failed). But no matter how often a nuclear power plant goes offline without warning, regulators and operators still assure the public they are necessary for "baseload capacity."

Lies, damned lies and the nuclear industry strikes out again.

In California, an apparently momentous decision was made regarding Diablo Canyon's pair of massive nuclear reactors (~1,100 megawatts each), which first went online in the mid 1980s and were originally scheduled to close by this year, but were granted a 10-year extension a few years ago for no apparent reason at all. After years of threatening to try to extend their license another 20 years to 60 years and beyond, its operator, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced that they would only run out their current license (good to 2024 and 2025 for units 1 and 2, respectively) and then be shut down permanently. The decision was made in cooperation with several environmental organizations (FoE, NRDC and A4NR) in some sort of secret backroom arrangement -- an arrangement which has some good points, but has some very bad points, too.

First and foremost among the good points is, of course, that the plant will shut down. And second is that it will be replaced with renewable energy and increased energy conservation.

But first and foremost among the bad points is not only that it will take 10 more years, and not only that the decision is potentially reversible, but also that the aforementioned environmental groups apparently have lost interest in shutting the plant down earlier. That means another two million pounds of high-level nuclear waste will be generated in the meantime, with their approval. And worst of all, it means that if the San Andreas earthquake fault does what it's been threatening to do for decades, and is actually considered late in doing, southern California will be ruined financially and environmentally. Not to mention the dozens of other faults that could shake the plant to smithereens any day of the week.

Additionally, while Fort Calhoun's operators have promised to help the employees of that plant find other work (probably installing solar panels on rooftops, making new interconnections to the power grid, building wind turbines and so forth), Diablo Canyon has promised to take more than a third of a billion dollars of ratepayer money to do the same. As if it was the ratepayers who chose to make the workers work in a dying industry with high-paying jobs. As if there aren't other nuclear power plants around the country that are having trouble finding workers, for those who want to stay in a dying industry. And as if there won't be plenty of renewable energy jobs they can find for themselves.

In short, the deal stinks so bad, one activist in the Diablo Canyon area described it as being "sold down the river."

In both cases, a major part of the decision was based on the fact that the electricity generated by Fort Calhoun and Diablo Canyon (and virtually every other nuclear power plant in the country) can be replaced immediately with other power sources, without the lights going out or reliability of the grid falling below setpoint levels. This is as it must be: Nuclear power plants require the rest of the grid to be operating or they themselves must shut down. That's why, when a massive power outage struck the northeastern United States in 2003, all the nuclear power plants in the area automatically shut down and could not help keep the grid up. They require about 30 megawatts of continuous power to operate, and as much as 100 megawatts during restart once they shut down for any reason. It took many days for the nuclear power plants to come back online even after the rest of the grid was restored. So much for the reliability of the "baseload" power system!

Diablo Canyon can and should close today. Even its owners have now admitted that its electricity output can be replaced entirely by renewables (although that might take a couple of years to accomplish, it would free up about 1500 workers (1200 PG&E employees, 200 subcontractors, and miscellaneous high-paid executives) to start installing solar panels and wind turbines. Its total output could be replaced in a matter of months.

Meanwhile, the nuclear waste at San Onofre is no longer being generated (SanO closed permanently in 2013 after a leaky steam generator could not be repaired). But the lies and damned lies continue spewing forth unabated from that complex as well. Last night, the quarterly Citizen's Engagement Panel met once again, supposedly to engage with citizens but in fact, to push the utility's agenda of cheap, ineffective, dangerous solutions to its nuclear waste problem -- which it will have for 500,000 years unless something is done about it. The meeting was attended by some high-powered outsiders from the Department of Energy and a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman, Dr. Allison Macfarlane. Earlier in the day several localized meetings were held with these outsiders for additional discussions. It all looks very cooperative on paper, but in reality it's nothing but the regular dog-and-pony shows the nuclear industry and the NRC have been putting on for decades.

Time was, speakers at an NRC hearing were sworn in, swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That ended about 20 years ago, and now we have a non-governmental body making nonsense plans and decisions which will affect the local population for decades to come, will solve nothing, will obstruct real solutions (more on that in a moment), and will push the utilities' agenda down everybody's throats (literally, when the waste escapes its escarpments).

For example, at the earlier meeting, I was able to ask a question: Why can't the waste at San Onofre be moved to Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona, which has three operating nuclear reactors which are licensed to continue operating for many years to come, which is about 60 miles from the nearest population center, which has plenty of room for another 150 dry casks, and which is partly owned by Southern California Edison anyway, who currently own the fuel at San Onofre?

The chairperson of the CEP -- all of whom were hand-picked by Southern California Edison -- chose to respond, derogatorily, saying with a laugh, "just because SCE owns a part of the plant doesn't mean they can dictate what happens" and "there's no way to transport the waste there" and "laws would have to be changed, which isn't going to happen."

Later, a representative of a radioactive transportation company which has been moving spent fuel for more than 50 years stated that yes, the fuel can be transported "today, if you give me a place for it to go to."

Also at the CEP general meeting last night, practically the entire discussion was about changing the laws of the country so that an interim storage location can be established, and local communities and the state it would be in would no longer be able to object, nor would the communities along the transportation routes, nor would anyone else. Specifically, small greedy land owners or tiny impoverished American Indian tribes would be bribed to take the waste, and new laws to be passed by Congress would forbid objection by other parties.

That is called a "consent-based storage solution."

Lies, damned lies and the nuclear industry!

Allison Macfarlane, a former NRC commissioner and a member of Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste (BRC, which met a few dozen times between 2010 and 2012) pushed the local citizens around San Onofre to push our elected officials to enact some sort of new regulation to permit an interim storage site. Among other laws that the "experts" say would need to be changed is the use of the funds that have been collected for permanent nuclear waste storage through the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), to deviate either the interest on those funds (which currently covers inflation somewhat) or even some of the funds themselves to pay for interim storage sites, including bribes (they call it "financial incentives") and construction of the sites. If this happens, it eventually will bleed the funds for permanent storage dry as a bone.

John Kotek, Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, U.S. DOE concurred whole-heartedly with Macfarlane's suggestion, but said he would lose his job if he actually verbalized endorsing the citizens to push Congress. He should lose his job anyway for the lies and damned lies he spewed last night. He admitted to being new to thinking about spent fuel issues until he was made "staff director" of the BRC.

Among his many lies was that the "technical challenges" to long-term nuclear waste storage (as in a few decades, not the 500,000 years actually necessary) have been solved. In reality we're not even close! As Donna Gilmore ( has pointed out, and pointed out again last night -- stainless steel -- the metal of choice because it's cheaper than other options -- is susceptible to "stress corrosion cracking" which start as microscopic fissures, usually caused by salts (these casks will be stored barely 100 feet from the ocean) but the fissures can also be started by insects, birds, and even human fingernail scratches, machinery scraping against the casks during fabrication, transport to the reactor site, loading and placement. Her research has further discovered that the conditions necessary for such cracks to grow are already present after just a few years (when the cask surfaces are too hot, the salts don't precipitate on the surfaces). She also found at least one instance were the same type of stainless steel had developed a crack large enough to go completely through a dry cask in just 17 years! And lastly, she has found that there is no way to inspect the casks. And even if there were a way to inspect most of the surfaces, the most critical areas -- the pressure points -- would still be hard or impossible to inspect, especially without moving the casks, which presents additional dangers.

This is hardly even a temporary solution, let alone a long-term one. But it's what's going to happen.

Kotek stated that the DOE is only funding their "consent-based" group the he heads up one year at a time -- but they were given tens of millions of dollars to spend this year, and expect similar funding next year. Nevertheless, they are only visiting 8 locations that want their fuel moved (San Onofre is not one they are visiting, DOE only sent Kotek and some members of his staff to attend the meetings yesterday). They have no plans to meet with any "host communities" for two reasons: First, there are no such places. Kotek claimed that Texas and New Mexico both have interested parties, which may be true, but the states as a whole are utterly against becoming the nation's spent fuel repositories, and clearly DOE recognizes that going to those sites to present a "balanced overview" so that an "informed public" could make a "rational decision" was only going to make things worse.

Time and again it was mentioned that the waste needs to be protected for a long time -- tens of thousands of years. Actually, because of the plutonium, which has a half-life of 25,000 years, the real length of time -- unless you somehow remove the plutonium (more on that idea in a moment) -- is more like half a million years (20X the half-life is a standard rule of thumb for how long a radioactive substance remains hazardous above "background levels"). But even more realistic are two factors:

First, the fission products, most of which have half-lives under about three decades, are by far the greatest threat to humanity if they get out, at least in the short term, but are completely gone within about six centuries (with seven exceptions, all of which have extremely long half-lives but are present in very low quantities, which this author refers to as "the ignoble seven").

Second, Plutonium (and Uranium-235, the other most hazardous fissile isotope) CAN be "neutralized" to become fission product components. This was completely ignored by the staff of the DOE, by Macfarlane, and by the CEP. It involves irradiating the spent fuel with a gamma ray free electron laser (FEL) which would produce collimated gamma ray photons having energy levels of about 10 MeV to about 15 MeV -- just the energy levels needed to split fissile Plutonium and Uranium atoms.

Free electron lasers already exist, although not yet tuned to produce those specific energy levels. (Linear accelerators can already produce photons with those energy levels, but take an enormous amount of room and money, and are not as collimated as an FEL could produce.) Given the budget of the DOE however, the research necessary to create such a device is well within reach. And the time to get started is yesterday.

In the meantime, using spent nuclear fuel rods in place of some of the control rods in a nuclear reactor could also reduce the plutonium to fission products, thus reducing the length of time the waste is hazardous from hundreds of thousands of years to hundreds of years, although of course, since that would involve running a nuclear reactor, there is some level of "taking from Peter to pay Paul" and equally troubling would be that there are no reactors designed to do such a thing. A collimated photon beam from a laser seems to be a much better solution. It reduces the length of time the waste is hazardous and eliminates the "proliferation risk" as well (Plutonium-239 and U-235 can both be used to make nuclear weapons).

Why isn't that being considered? I have no idea -- go ask the DOE. But all you'll get is lies and damned lies, if last night's CEP meeting is anything to go on. In the meantime, spent fuel nuclear waste -- now estimated to be nearly 80,000 tons of commercial waste and about a third as much of military waste -- continues to pile up around the country. Sites that are recently closed or closing (more than a dozen reactors around the country have closed in the last few years, or have announced plans to close permanently) want that waste removed. According to Kotek however, there is little interest in moving the fuel from sites where the waste has already been sitting for several decades, practically unguarded and unprotected (a few security guards, usually from the company that hired the Orlando night club shooter, are all that stand between a terrorist and a catastrophic release of spent fuel). People forget about it, but rust never sleeps, the hazards last for many millennia, and the costs of moving the waste will only go up and up and up. The containers the waste is in become brittle and untransportable without a heavy secondary overpack, the normal weight limits on the bridges the waste must cross over get severely exceeded, and sooner or later, all hell breaks loose.

Thank you, Department of Energy, for decades of pushing nuclear power without thinking about what to do about the waste! It's time for a change. A change of leadership, a change of heart, a change of plans, a change of direction.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

URL for Dr. Peter M. Livingston's patent application for reducing the storage time of spent nuclear fuel: (goes to the USPTO).

To view last night's CEP meeting, go to (not .org because the CEP is a commercial venture owned and operated (or controlled) by Southern California Edison), although the video is usually not put online for several days and sometimes portions are cut out that SCE doesn't want you to see.

There is one member of the CEP who deserves special mention: The honorable Pam Patterson, Mayor Pro Tem, San Juan Capistrano, who had many useful comments last night, among them asking why citizens don't have tables outside the room. "It's like a SoCalEd trade show" she said. I will plan to set up a table at the next meeting, per her suggestion.

A short and scary video regarding plant staffing for the next decade at Diablo Canyon (from A4NR) titled "Diablo Canyon Closing ­ Concerns of Dr. Robert Budnitz" is available here:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Radiation Filters (A film) presented by Greenpeace in San Diego THURSDAY 6/2/16 7:30 pm

Hosted by Minea L. Herwitz
Thursday, June 2 at 7:30 PM in PDT
3320 Kemper St, Suite 206 San Diego, CA 92110


Thursday June 2nd at 7:30pm, come see the film and meet the filmmakers as they share their nuclear love story with San Diego, hosted by Greenpeace!

Minea and Oliver, the creators, actors, and filmmakers behind Radiation Filters, have been traveling from their home in San Francisco down the coast of California, screening their first feature film that looks at the energy behind nuclear power. It's a comedic, romantic fictional tale woven into real life documentation of the nuclear situation in California and in the wake of Japan's nuclear meltdown. The film is an experience like no other, and the filmmakers will be at the screening in person to discuss their approach with the film and their last two years' experience exploring the world of nuclear energy at home and abroad. This film will make you look at your own power (both on your electric bill and in your heart), and at the energy that you are radiating out into the world.


"It's not just in the air . . . "

INVITE YOUR FRIENDS, we are excited to meet them!


Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:
Phone: (760) 720-7261
Address: PO Box 1936, Carlsbad, CA 92018
Subscribe to my free newsletter today!
Email: ace [at]

Please conserve resources: Do not print this email unless absolutely necessary.

Note: This communication may have been intercepted in secret, without permission, and in violation of our right to privacy by the National Security Agency or some other agency or private contractor.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Professor Tim Mousseau seminar May 19th, 2016 -- 6PM at Scripps Institute of Oceanography - OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!

A video of this presentation is now available on YouTube:


Hi Ace!   Please note: Professor Tim Mousseau Updated Itinerary and Contacts

May 18th

11 AM – USCD
Room 1103 Muir Biology Bldg
John Muir College

7:30 PM Greenpeace Staff - San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles
3960 Park Blvd Suite A 
San Diego, CA
RSVP with Matt McGinni  
Cell 805.509.3307

May 19th

1PM CSUSM Biology Dept Graduation Party SC
Science Hall 2 patio on the first floor (by invitation only)
2 PM CSUSM Department of Science and Mathematics
ACD 102

6 PM Scripps Institute of Oceanography
Sumner Auditorium
8625 Kennel Way
La Jolla, CA 92037

Please get the word out!  Thanks so much!
Cathy Iwane


En route from Fukushima to Chernobyl, Professor Mousseau, a recognized expert on the ecological impacts of nuclear radiation, will be in San Diego on Thursday, May 19th.  Dr. Mousseau has appeared on 60 Minutes and was recently featured in the NY Times.

Please join us, and share this event with all. 

For more information:   -  Professor Mousseau�s website   - 2.5 million hits on The Animals of Chernobyl | NY Times - "Fukushima Catastrophe and its Effects on Wildlife"



Professor Tim Mousseau presents:

Lessons from the Chernobyl and Fukushima Disasters

Do Nuclear Accidents Generate a �Garden of    
Eden� for Wildlife?

Date:           May 19, 2016
Time:          6:00 pm
Location:   Sumner Auditorium (see attached map)
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Given increasing energy needs related to global development, and the specter of climate change related to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, there is an urgent need for large scale energy production that does not involve the production of greenhouse gasses.  Nuclear energy is one possible solution that has been embraced by many developing countries (e.g. China). But the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and most recently Fukushima, Japan, have demonstrated the vulnerability of this technology to human error, design flaws and natural disasters and these accidents have resulted in enormous health, environmental and economic costs that must be factored into any energy policy that includes nuclear as an option.
            Studies of natural systems are essential since they provide a bellwether for the potential long-term consequences for human populations that by necessity and policy continue to inhabit contaminated regions.
            Professor Mousseau, will discuss his studies of plants and animals living in Chernobyl and Fukushima.  Extensive research on birds, insects, rodents and trees has demonstrated significant injury to individuals, species and ecosystem functioning related to radiation exposure He will present an overview of the effects of radiation on DNA, birth defects, infertility, cancer, and longevity, and its consequences for the health and long-term prospects of wildlife living in radioactive regions of the world.

Tim Mousseau (PhD�88, McGill) is a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina. Past positions include Dean of the Graduate School and Associate Vice President for Research at USC, and as a Program Officer for Population Biology at the National Science Foundation. His research is concerned with the ecology and evolution of animals and plants with special interests in how adaptations to changing environments evolve in natural populations and the evolution of adaptive maternal effects.  He has authored or edited 10 volumes and published more than 190 scientific papers. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Explorers Club.  Tim Mousseau full bio:

For more information contact:   Samuel Lawrence Foundation   858.481.1673

Scripps_Campus Map_Sumner.pdf  Scripps_Campus Map_Sumner.pdf

SIO  - Mousseau seminar  5-19-16.docx  SIO - Mousseau seminar 5-19-16.docx